With Lute Olson joining a record crowd in the Walkup Skydome on Tuesday night, former Arizona Wildcats staff member Jack Murphy led the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks past NJIT to advance to the CIT Championship Game.
Murphy was on Olson's staff at Arizona from 1998-2006, serving as the team manager, recruiting coordinator, administrative assistant, video coordinator and director of operations.
This is his third year at NAU after spending three years on Josh Pastner's coaching staff at Memphis. It's pretty remarkable what Murphy has been able to do in just three years in Flagstaff.
Tuesday night's game saw the largest crowd in the history of NAU Basketball. 5,583 filled the Skydome seats to watch NAU take down NJIT 68-61, and then rushed the court for the second time in less than a week.
My hand may have been shaking, but I hope you enjoy the final seconds of the NAU Basketball win tonight over NJIT in the CIT Semifinals! Epic, positively epic!Posted by Mitch Strohman on Tuesday, March 31, 2015
To get to this point, NAU had to beat GCU without Jack Murphy, who was suspended after an incident in the Big Sky semifinal game against Montana.
Then the Jacks had to go to Sacramento State, where they had lost 78-73 on New Years' Day. Well, NAU got its revenge, winning by the exact same score, 78-73.
After those two wins, the Jacks got rewarded with a home game, hosting Kent State. It took a huge rally late in overtime, but a 74-73 win vaulted NAU into the semifinals, and another home date against NJIT. It was also the first court storming of the week.
NJIT is loosely tied to Arizona this year as well. Remember when Michigan lost to them just before the Wolverines came to Tucson? And then while the Wildcats were crushing Michigan, ZonaZoo started chanting "N-J-I-T" as part of the entire university's troll job of the Wolverines that day.
Fast forward to Tuesday, and NJIT had a big lead over NAU early in the second half. It looked like something that us people that have watched anything NAU are all too familiar with. A big home game where the entire town gets behind the Jacks, and then they just choke that away.
But Murphy has brought a different mindset to this program.
The Jacks fought back, and ultimately had a decisive win to advance to the championship game.
As Arizona fans, you might think the CIT is a joke. But this is an enormous deal to the people at NAU, and to Jack Murphy. As a low-major program, getting this kind of exposure and advancing through a tournament like this could be a springboard to bigger and better things in Flagstaff.
And seriously, who gets a crowd of over 5,500 out to the Skydome on a Tuesday night? Jack Murphy, that's who.
As someone who lived in Flagstaff for 16 years and grew up on NAU basketball, I never saw this day coming. The biggest basketball game I ever saw in the Skydome was an overtime loss to Oregon in 2000. I've watched NAU host Big Sky Tournament semifinals and finals, and somehow always find a way to lose, even when the Jacks were clearly the better team.
Now here they are, winning the most important games in the history of the program and making Flagstaff catch basketball fever. And NAU is the last school in the state playing basketball. No one could have ever seen that coming.
NAU plays Thursday night in Indiana against Evansville for the CIT crown.
Time: 4:00 PM PT
TV: CBS Sports Network